Mr. B Natural
Mr. B Natural is a short sponsored film produced in 1956 by Kling Film Productions for the C.G. Conn Company, directed by Phil Patton. It is also the name of the film's main character, played by Betty Luster.
The short was intended to be shown in classrooms and school assemblies to advertise Conn's line of musical instruments for American school bands. It fell into obscurity until it was satirized in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 that first aired on November 30, 1991, after which it was celebrated as a prime example of period kitsch.
Mr. B Natural is an androgynous figure, a "hep pixie" who is meant to embody the "spirit of fun in music". In this capacity, the character inspires children to take up band instruments. The name is a pun on the musical notation B♮ (B natural), as the character explains: "that's what your feelings of music are, as natural as you can be." The nickname of Billy Eckstine, a highly popular singer and bandleader at the time, was "Mr. B."
The character also acts as a kind of nascent brand mascot for C.G. Conn musical instruments, though Mr. B Natural made no appearances for the company beyond the one film.
Conn provided details about the film in the Spring 1957 issue of their magazine, The Baton, distributed to public school music teachers: "Mr. B Natural is the spirit of music in everyone...a sort of LepreCONN who is always no more than an inch away from the fingertips of anyone. Mr. B has a code however, that prohibits him from showing himself for anyone unless he reaches out and calls for the spirit of music. In full color, Mr. B Natural entertainingly answers the call of Buzz, a shy, reticent teen-ager and for twenty-six minutes and forty seconds explains how music and playing a musical instrument will help develop posture, breathing, self-confidence, coordination and in general a young person's character. Mr. B gives both youthful and adult audiences ease to take instruction in the values of music. The Film is being made available by the Band Instrument Division of Conn through Conn dealers everywhere."
In captions for the productions photos included in the three-page essay, the title character is consistently referred to as "he", an indication that Conn intended Mr. B to be of the male gender. However, in an instance of reverse-gender casting similar to the casting of Mary Martin as Peter Pan ("Mary Martin syndrome" as Kevin Murphy said when writing about his experiences with the short film), the role was cast with an actress, Betty Luster, who had been a television musical variety star only a few years before.
The action opens upon the musical stave in which Mr. B Natural lives. Mr. B addresses the audience directly, in an effort to appear welcoming, and explains what it means to be a spirit of music. Awaiting a person's call for help, Mr. B evinces sympathy and concern for lonely junior high student Buzz Turner.
Buzz shows an interest in music like the more popular kids at school, but is so shy that he makes excuses to not attend a dance, even when a girl directly invites him. Dejected, Buzz returns home and puts on a record. This magically summons Mr. B into the adolescent boy's bedroom, whereupon the pixie uses magic, music and dance to convince Buzz to take up playing the trumpet.
In visiting the music dealership, Buzz's parents are reassured by the salesman that buying a trumpet is "simply making a small investment in your son's lifetime personality." When Buzz mentions that he didn't care what make his new horn would be, he is upbraided by Mr. B Natural, and is treated to a detailed description of the C. G. Conn factory and laboratories.
Through the gift of music and the help of his mysterious friend, Buzz finds the confidence and assertiveness he needs to try out for the school band, impress girls, and play solo at concerts and school dances.
- Betty Luster as Mr. B Natural
- Betty Luster performed on the operatic stage in the late 1940s, was a regular on the 1951 NBC television variety show Seven at Eleven, and in 1955 appeared on Broadway. Mr. B Natural is her last known role.
- Bruce Podewell as Buzz Turner. "Buzz" is Podewell's own nickname, and he had appeared under that name on Watch Mr. Wizard in 1951. Until his death in March 2013, he had been a professor of theater and dance at Tulane University for nearly 40 years.
- James Andelin as Band instructor (uncredited)
- Lester Podewell as Mr. Turner (Buzz's father) (uncredited)
- Paul E. Richards
Mr. B Natural was produced by Kling Film Productions, an industrial film producer based out of Chicago, Illinois. The film's sponsor, C.G. Conn, was introducing its new line of "Connstellation" brass instruments in the mid-1950s, which may explain the emphasis on these instruments in the storyline.
Shooting took place in 1956, on 16mm in Technicolor. Which sound stages were used for the production is not known, but the school grounds of Waukegan Elementary School in Illinois and Miami Sr. High School in Ohio were used for location shots. Footage of workers at a C.G. Conn plant also appears.
- Phil Patton, director
- Patton's only other known credit was for directing the American dubs and footage of the Soviet children's classic The Snow Queen in 1959.
- Marvin David, writer
- Bernie Saber, music
- David Savitt, cinematographer
- Arthur Ellis, editor
Mystery Science Theater 3000
In 1991, HBO sought content for its new network, Comedy Central, and employed "ephemeral film" expert Rick Prelinger to locate amusing vintage footage. Mr. B Natural was not held in Prelinger's collection, but was licensed for use in Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) from Streamline Film Archives, now F.I.L.M. Archives. F.I.L.M. Archives is the only known holder of this film print today, archived as reel #1133B.
Mr. B Natural was featured on MST3K as part of episode #319, preceding the film War of the Colossal Beast, which first aired November 30, 1991. It is celebrated by fans and critics alike as one of the most memorable shorts ever satirized by the show.
In MST3K's revisiting of the short, Joel Robinson and the bots mock Mr. B's gender ambiguity and seemingly sinister interest in Buzz. They also pick up on a candid comment of Mr. B Natural, "don't be too sure I wasn't in the Garden with Mr. and Mrs. Adam," making the obvious connection that Adam and Eve's only companion in Eden mentioned in the Genesis story was the serpent. When Mr. B Natural starts a series of bizarre dances, Crow moans "Oh, my God, please say this isn't happening!" while Tom intones "Ladies and gentlemen, please accept our sincere apologies for all of this." Following the short, Joel moderates a mock-serious debate between Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo as to whether Mr. B Natural is a man or a woman. The film presented on MST3K edited out about seven minutes of material.
The short was later referenced many times during the show's run. Examples include:
- In Episode #420, The Human Duplicators, as a lithe woman walks down a stairway and across a room, Crow says in a higher pitched voice, "Knew your father, I did", a line uttered by Mr. B Natural.
- In Episode #421, Joel, to cheer him up after a particularly bad movie (Monster A-Go-Go), dressed Tom up as a "Happy King", quoting Mr. B and pronouncing it the same oddly chipper way the character did.
- In Episode #514, Teen-Age Strangler, as a character walks past several high school lockers, Crow declares nervously, "Mr. B Natural's in one of those lockers."
- During the short Design for Dreaming in Episode #524, Crow reacts to the main actress's perky dancing by declaring "It's a salute to Mr. B Natural!"
- In one scene in #703, Deathstalker and the Warriors from Hell, Deathstalker gingerly leaps out of the way of a sword, to which Crow exclaims, "I'm Mr. B Natural!"
Mr. B was recreated by Bridget Jones in the live broadcast "Turkey Day" host segments of episode #701T Night of the Blood Beast, on November 23, 1995. Jones's Mr. B has arrived on the show to celebrate Thanksgiving, but becomes the focus of the unwelcome affections of another guest, a drunken Jack Perkins, played by Jones' real-life husband Michael J. Nelson.
In 2013, RiffTrax, an online comedy website that features three of the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Michael J. Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy), wrote and performed an all-new commentary track for Mr. B Natural. The resulting film with commentary track was released to some sponsors of their Kickstarter crowd-funded campaign. Unlike the MST3K version, the RiffTrax version is a nearly unedited 26 minutes, 7 seconds.
Notes and references
- Prelinger, Rick (2006). The Field Guide to Sponsored Films (PDF). National Film Preservation Foundation. p. 65. ISBN 0-9747099-3-X.
- Prelinger cites industry publications of the day for the date of 1956; this contradicts IMDb and most current sources that place the release in 1957.
- Beaulieu, Trace; Chaplin, Paul; Mallon, Jim; Murphy, Kevin; Nelson, Michael J.; Pehl, Mary Jo (1996). "The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide". Bantam Books: 57. ISBN 0-553-37783-3.
- Hamilton, Frank (2006). "Opera in Philadelphia: Performance Chronology 1925-1949" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- Internet Broadway Database. "The Wayward Saint". Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- Internet Movie Database. "Bruce Podewell". Retrieved 2007-05-30.
- "Theatre and Dance". Retrieved 30 June 2012.
- Mahne, Theodore P. (March 29, 2013). "Buzz Podewell, 69, longtime director and acting teacher, dies". The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA: Advance Publications). Retrieved April 7, 2013.
- He was then Conn's Band Instrument sales manager, described in the Spring 1957 issue of Conn's The Baton as being "responsible for the over-all production of the film." The film credits Richards as "technical advisor", though he is listed as cast by Prelinger in Sponsored Films.
- Prelinger, Rick (January 4, 2001). "An Informal History of Prelinger Archives". Retrieved 2007-05-27.
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: Mr. B Natural|
- Mr. B Natural at the Internet Movie Database
- MST3K "War of the Colossal Beast" at TV.com
- MST3K "The 1995 Thanksgiving Episode" at TV.com
- Episode 701T- Night of the Blood Beast (Turkey Day Host Segments) at MST3Kinfo.com
- Mr. B Natural: Man or Woman? Transcript of the debate that originally followed, and was an intrinsic part of, the spoof